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More students are using Clearing than ever before

As Scottish students receive their SQA results UCAS' Richard O'Kelly explores emerging trends
This article is more than 4 years old

Richard O’Kelly is Head of Data and Analysis at UCAS.

Tuesday’s publication of undergraduate acceptance numbers on SQA results day gives us the first meaningful picture of the students who’ll be enrolling come September.

Although many will have 15 August circled on their calendars as A level results are published across the UK, we can use today’s data to map the landscape that may emerge next Thursday and beyond.

Scotland goes international

One of today’s prominent highlights is the record number of non-EU students that have accepted a place in Scottish HE, with an additional 920 Chinese students driving the increase of the extra 1,040 placed non-EU applicants. The EU picture is different for Scotland, a year-on-year decline, perhaps reflecting a desire for Scottish providers to manage their exposure to EU applicants in the current, uncertain climate. Based on what we saw in the application data, it would be surprising if the same result played out across UK HE provision at the end of next week.

Nearly 220,000 people have already been accepted in the 2019 cycle across the UK – well over a third of everyone who will be accepted by the end of the year. With the end of the admissions cycle comes Clearing – a name that now represents an established recruitment route for universities, and a valid post-qualifications application pathway for students, with over 30,000 courses available.

Clearing time

We can already see the dynamism of Clearing, for both providers and students. Clearing has been open for a month, and almost 4,500 have already used it to secure a place. There are 100,000 applicants free to be placed, and we know that some who are currently placed want to change their minds. 2,000 placed applicants have already self-released into Clearing. It’s 2019, and students expect to interact online, including having the freedom to explore options without having to wait for a university to release them. Those students who have already self-released aren’t necessarily just  trading up to a university in a higher tariff banding, they are also moving across. Over 9,000 people have also applied direct to Clearing already – a record, and a number that we expect to see rise in the coming weeks.

Clearing acceptances have been on the rise for several years. There’s been a 50 per cent increase in the last decade – from 43,890 in 2008, to 66,770 in 2018. Based on everything above, we don’t think it’s unreasonable to see more than 70,000 students get their place through Clearing this year. 80,000 even? We’ll see. The 20,000 mark for those placed after applying directly into Clearing is certainly within reach.

The state of the market

University admissions is a competitive market, especially with the continual decline over the past few years of the UK’s 18 year old population, and this is undoubtedly true for Clearing too. Displays at train stations, pre-trailer cinema adverts, plus constant boomerangs, gifs and stories across social media right now are testament to that. But what about further afield, across borders and continents? Almost every university will have their plans to recruit international students through the main cycle, but sometimes insufficient attention and resource is given to them in July and August.

In total, there are already over 100,000 students free to be placed in Clearing, 40 per cent of whom are international students. Our survey insight shows that 70 per cent of students looking for a place in Clearing will revert back to one of their original choices, where a relationship might have been cultivated for the best part of a year. It’s never been more important for universities to maintain, maybe even rekindle, these connections. They could be the answer to recruitment targets.

Course preferences are changing too. Nursing acceptances for Scottish students are at record levels. This comes alongside the ongoing trend for students to have their future career in mind, before they’ve embarked on their years of study and commitment to a subject. And the UK 18 year old demographics are changing too. 12 months from now, universities will find themselves in a position they’ve not known for the best part of a decade. The young population will again start growing across the UK. Universities that plan ahead and position themselves for this key group of students will be ready to offer them the courses they’re seeking.

And finally… we saw record application rates for young people in England (39.5 per cent) this cycle, but will this translate to record entry rates? We’d go so far as to bet a Wonkhe mug on it…

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